6) In my research about you, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that you are credited with writing the story for Lethal Weapon 2 and one of my all time favorite Clint Eastwood movies, The Eiger Sanction. How is writing a movie script different from writing a novel? Any scripts in the works at this moment?
Okay. I’ll admit it. No matter how unmanly it might sound for me to say this, I’m giddy. Literally giddy over this week’s special guest. You see, in 1985, I was introduced to an assassin. Not your typical kill-with-a-gun assassin, mind you. Oh no. That would be boring. This particular assassin was special. Trained in a very special kind of martial arts developed by a tiny village in Korea called Sinanju, this particular assassin could kill with his fingers. Heck, he could practically kill with his mind. The name of this assassin, of course, is Remo Williams. My introduction to him was, ironically enough, not in a book…but rather in a movie. A rather cheesy, 80s style movie (that I adore to this very day). I wasn’t even aware that the movie was based on a bestselling series of books. Heck, I was only 14 years old at the time and not really all that interested in reading.
That is, until a few years later. I first discovered that Remo Williams was part of The Destroyer series of books, ironically once again, by a movie about another book action hero called Jake Speed (another favorite movie of mine). In that movie, they happen to mention that Remo Williams had his own series of books. What? I thought. No way! So, the next time I managed to get my butt into a book store (hey, I lived in Ft. Payne, Alabama at the time…we didn’t exactly have a great selection of book stores there…and this was waaaay before Amazon or ebooks), I ran to the Adventure section of the book store and searched for any book I could find about Remo Williams. And that’s when my love for this great series truly began. I read book after book. I couldn’t get enough of them.
Well, a few months ago, I discovered that the entire series of The Destroyer series was now available for the Kindle…and at incredible prices!! So guess what I’ve been reading lately? That’s right. I’ve been rollicking in the awesome adventures of the western assassin named Remo Williams and his racist, smart-mouthed, incredibly funny Yoda/Trainer/Master of Sinanju Chiun. And I’ve been loving every minute of it. Loving every minute of it so much, in fact, that I sought series co-creator Warren Murphy out and immediately set to get to know him. I couldn’t believe it when he actually agreed to do an interview for my blog.
Wait. What? You’ve never heard of The Destroyer? Never heard of Remo Williams? Egads! Never been blessed to read the wisdom of Chiun? Well, let me give you a brief recap of what it’s all about.
The first book, CREATED, THE DESTROYER, was released in 1971 (Murphy and co-creator Richard Sapir had written the book all the way back in 1963…just around the time James Bond first became popular). Anyway, the first book follows the story of Remo Williams, a good cop who has been convicted of a murder he didn’t commit. He is awaiting execution by electric chair when he is approached by a shadowy monk with the means to get him out of prison. It just so happens that this monk is also the man who framed Remo for murder as a ploy to get him to join a super secret government agency known as CURE. This agency is so secret, in fact, that only four men on earth know of its existence: Remo, the man who saves/frames him named MacCleary, the head of CURE named Dr. Harold Smith, and the President of the United States. That’s it. No one else knows they exist. Remo is then trained to be a master assassin, who’s mission is to take out the criminal underworld that uses the U.S. Constitution as means to beat the system.
Of course, in this synopsis, I’m neglecting the most important person and I certainly can’t do that…he’d have my hide if I forgot him. I am, of course, referring to Chiun, master of Sinanju and teacher/father-figure to Remo. Chiun is, in my opinion, one of the most fun and humorous characters in all of fiction. There is no telling what outrageous comment this little yellow racist is going to say and no one is off limits to his sharp wit. But he also loves Remo truly like a father…though if given the word, he would not hesitate to end Remo’s life.
Now I’ll be honest, the first few Remo books were developmental. The characters were being fleshed out throughout the first three books. Book five is where the series really begins to take on something extraordinarily special. But don’t take me wrong…I love those first four books just as much as the entire series. It’s just that you don’t really get to know the characters until around #5. Wait, how many Destroyer books are there? You ask. Tons. More than a hundred anyway. Enough to keep you laughing and on the edge of your seat for years, I’d say.
Well, as I mentioned before, recently, I had a chance to talk to Mr. Murphy and ask him some questions about Remo, writing in general, the state of the publishing industry, and a whole lot more. Here’s what he had to say:
1) I’ve already talked about The Destroyer series, Remo Williams, and everyone’s favorite Sinanju master, Chiun…just to fill my readers in, in case they’ve been living under a rock for the past forty years. My first question is the simplest of all: Where did Remo come from? How did you and Richard Sapir first come up with the idea?
When we met, I was working in the Jersey City Mayor’s office, committing politics, and Dick Sapir was a City Hall reporter for the local paper. We hit it off tight right from the beginning and came to realize we both had writing ambitions that went beyond campaign speeches and covering two-alarm fires. James Bond was just starting to appear on the radar and I suggested a hero crimefighter and Dick suggested a secret agency. So we went upstairs to my attic and started working. Our first try was with a Jewish crime-fighting psychoanalyst in New York City named Bernie. It was obvious that wasn’t going to fly. We kept working.
2) Follow up question to the first…in the movie Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, MacCleary pulls Remo’s name from a bedpan in a hospital room. Of course, in the books, his name was always Remo and he’d simply change his last name for each mission. My question is where did you guys come up with this wonderful name?
Remo’s name was a cold calculation on my part. I started thinking about great character names and what is the greatest of all? Sherlock Holmes obviously, so great that you don’t even need to mention his surname…just Sherlock will do and everybody in the world knows who you mean. I went looking for a name like that…two syllables, easy to remember, uncommon, and on a map of Italy, I found San Remo, shouted ‘Eureka,’ and knew we were home. The film nonsense about the name coming from the bed pan is just more of Hollywood dumbness, in which the movie sadly abounded. The name ‘Williams,’ I don’t know where that came from. Probably the name of a bartender in some ginmill that Dick and I frequented, although I know I did want it to be pretty generic American.
3) When Created, the Destroyer was first published back in 1971, did you ever imagine the series would become such a huge success? Did you ever imagine that it would be a series of well over 100 books?
We finished writing our first book in 1963, June 25, to be exact and then got published eight years later and became “overnight successes.” But at the start, we just wanted to get a book published. We didn’t really think in terms of a series and The Destroyer was never our name. The publisher picked it; we had entitled that first book “Created the Destroyer,” from the verse in the Baghavad Gita that Oppenheimer quoted when the first a-bomb was exploded: something like “I am created Shiva the destroyer, death the shatterer of worlds.” I was being heavily literary; I didn’t have a clue that I was inaugurating “the Destroyer” series. We always knew we would have been taken more seriously if we our series had been called “Remo Williams” or “Remo and Chiun.” But that’s life. Anyway, after we sold a couple of books, Dick and I sat down one night and thought if we stay at this, someday maybe we can each make a living. (Remember, we each got paid $1,125 for our first book…for only eight years of working and waiting.) But things worked out and here we are, counting everything, with more than 150 Remo-related books. Actually, we were going to stop twenty years ago and had written a final book to close out the series, but then Dick died and for one reason or another, I decided to keep it going.
4) What do you think draws so many people to The Destroyer series? What is it about the books that appeals to us?
The series survives because Chiun, our cranky Korean master assassin, is such a great character, and his father-son relationship with Remo drives all the stories. And the other thing is that we promulgated this giant myth: the brash young westerner trained in the secret arts by an inscrutable old Oriental. I won’t say we invented it, but we sure made it popular — as you can tell by the hundreds of books, movies and TV shows that ripped off our concepts.
5) Who are some of greatest writing influences? Favorite authors to read?
Time out….when do I get a chance to do blatant self-promotion? Let me think and come back to #5.
Screenwriting and novels are two different art forms and I won’t be a snob and look down my nose at screenwriters. It’s hard to do because it’s hard for most people to think visually. If you can though, it’s a pretty neat business. I wrote the Eiger Sanction for Eastwood in 9 days, one of which was spent reading a book on writing a screenplay because I had never done it before. He took my first draft to camera so that’s kind of high cheese, you know. More scripts? I’ve got a file cabinet filled with scripts that were optioned and never produced, but I love every one of them and I’ll never abandon them. (Let me knew if you come up with a spare $50 million. Your people and my people might be able to do business.)
7) You and your sons have recently founded Ballybunnion Books in order to bring The Destroyer series to the wonderful world of ebooks…opening the series up to a whole new generation of readers. I’m curious what prompted this decision, as well as your take on ebooks in general.
There’s an old saying that some people are alive only because it’s against the law to shoot them. Ditto traditional publishers. For years they had no competition, so they dissed writers, wasted money, published junk, acted generally like damned fools but as God almost always does, one day He sent them the due bill in the form of e-book technology. Now they’re all scrambling, trying to stay alive, all of them wondering “where did we go wrong?” They went wrong because they were a monopoly and like most monopolies they grew arrogant and terminally stupid. As for e-books, sure, there’s a lot of junk being printed but there’s also an awful lot of good stuff that never would have seen the light of day if we had to wait for some “legacy publisher” to pass up the latest tome about the Kardashian nitwits and instead publish a real book. E-books are the best game in town. I predicted it twenty years ago and I’m glad to report I was right.
8) Now before anyone gets the wrong idea, you’ve written more than just your Remo Williams books. You’re a prolific author with a number of mysteries and other thrillers under your belt. If you had to choose only two non-Destroyer series books to share with the world, which ones would they be and why?
Apart from the Destroyer series, you’re correct, I do a lot of work. I was always pleased with the Trace detective series, which has been cited as one of the “must read” private eye series and also called “the funniest detective novels ever written.” I did seven books and they won six national awards, so that’s not too shabby. And with my erstwhile partner, Molly Cochran, I worked on a trilogy that started with another Edgar-winner, “Grandmaster” and that’s another one of my favorites. Why? Because I am an uncomplicated person who believes that if you write an interesting story about interesting people, you might get some readers interested in it. That’s about as good a rule as I’ve got.
9) Finally, the question I always try to ask from every author I interview…if you could only offer one piece of advice for aspiring authors out there, what would it be?
Never give up. Write one, submit it and immediately start writing another one. Never give up. John Kennedy Toole blew his brains out because he couldn’t sell his one novel, which turned out posthumously to be “A Confederacy of Dunces.” How stupid was that? Emulate instead John Creasey who got almost 1,000 rejection letters before he sold his first novel…then never got another rejection and had published over 400 novels by the time he died. Never give up. You’ve got to be awfully stupid to write a lot and not get any better, so never give up. As the old jazz musician once said, If you hang around long enough, sooner or later they get to you.” Never give up.
Oh, time out…back to blatant self-promotion and question 5. My influences were pop writers, H.G. Wells, Conan Doyle, Poe, Dumas, Agatha Christie, people like that, anybody who could tell a story. After a while, I slid over to Hemingway and my favorite novelist (whom no one but me has ever heard of) named Bernard Wolfe. He wrote “The Great Prince Died.” Melville wasn’t bad either. Neither was Ted Sturgeon.
Currently I have round heels and I like everybody, but personal favorites are the afore-mentioned Molly Cochran, Larry Block, Bob Randisi, Angela Zeman, Ed Gorman, the very young, very good Heather Hildenbrand, and Joe Konrath, blogmaster to the world. (And a dozen other people I read all the time but whose names have disappeared in the maw of my memory.)
Finally BSP: after about a five year hiatus from the world, a new Destroyer novella titled “Savage Song” will appear on Amazon and Kindle around week’s end. It features Remo, Chiun, the world’s greatest entertainer and history’s dumbest White House ever.
Thank you, so much, Mr. Murphy. I can’t express how happy I am that you took the time to do this little interview.
Readers, I highly encourage you to check out The Destroyer series, if you haven’t already done so. They are available for the Kindle. And many of them are available for the Nook. More ebooks are coming all the time, including the upcoming novella Warren just told you about, SAVAGE SONG, which will be available around March 23, 2012. But don’t take my word for it…find out all you could possibly hope for by going to the following websites (FYI, they frequently have FREE ebooks or discounted prices…so check out the website frequently):